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US developer to build flying taxis in Abu Dhabi

Archer Aviation's eVTOL aircraft 'Midnight' Archer Aviation
Archer Aviation's eVTOL aircraft 'Midnight'. ADIO agreed with Archer Aviation to commence air taxi operations in Abu Dhabi in 2026
  • Archer Aviation signs agreement
  • eVTOL aircraft for UAE in 2026
  • Middle East expansion plan

The day is drawing closer when a taxi ride between Dubai and Abu Dhabi takes only twenty minutes in an aircraft built in the UAE.

A US developer of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft has signed an agreement with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) to set up a manufacturing centre in Abu Dhabi.

Archer Aviation in California is developing a piloted four-passenger aircraft that will be able to complete a 60 to 90 minute car journey in 10 to 20 minutes. 

“The aircraft is tested in the US and would be FAA certified in the next 18 months,” Nikhil Goel, Archer Aviation’s chief commercial officer, told AGBI.

He added that after starting commercial operations in the US in 2025, the eVTOL will be deployed in the UAE by 2026.

“The [construction of the] production line has already started in Georgia in the US,” said Goel. “We will establish our second manufacturing facility in Abu Dhabi.”

Initially, Archer expects to produce around 100 aircraft per year, then scale it up to more than 1000, Goel said.

At first, the company will focus on highly congested cities – Abu Dhabi and Dubai – and then deploy its technology across other emirates. But its ambition is to reach a wider region. 

“The Middle East is ripe with opportunity. If you look at Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and countries like India and Indonesia, there’s incredible demand here,” Goel said.

Archer will also set up a centre of excellence in the UAE where software engineers will focus on artificial intelligence and autonomy. 

Inside Archer Aviation's 'Midnight' eVTOL aircraftArcher Aviation
Inside Archer Aviation’s ‘Midnight’ eVTOL aircraft

Backed by investors and partners such as Boeing, Stellantis, United Airlines, Ark Invest, and the US Department of Defense, the Californian startup has raised $1.2 billion in funding. It aims to develop autonomous flights over the long term.

“There will be a considerable investment made by Archer and some of our partners. We’re lucky to have just received substantial incentives and capital expenditures from ADIO as well,” Goel added.

SAVI cluster

The partnership was part of a long list of agreements signed at the official launch of the Abu Dhabi Smart and Autonomous Vehicles Industry (SAVI) cluster.

SAVI will develop driverless air, land and sea vehicles under the Abu Dhabi Industrial Strategy.

“The hub will make Abu Dhabi a globally leading smart autonomous vehicle player,” said Naif Shahin, director of innovation and knowledge at the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development.

Archer Aviation's 'Maker' eVTOL aircraftArcher Aviation
Archer Aviation’s ‘Maker’ eVTOL aircraft

The cluster was inspired by two centres of autonomous vehicle development – Toulouse in France and Seattle in the US – and will be headquartered in Masdar City.

It will offer business acceleration services, a one-stop shop for government regulatory services for licensing, authorisation and certification. 

The centre will house academia, test zones, R&D labs, large-scale workshops, hangars and manufacturing centres.

The initiative will build on the strength of the Emirates’ aviation and aerospace industries and leverage its existing infrastructure.

Three test and certification zones were identified in Nibras Aerospace Park in Al Ain, Yas Island, and Mussaffah Port.

Ahmed Jasim Al Zaabi, Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development chairman, stated that SAVI will help Abu Dhabi’s economic diversification, contribute up to AED120 billion to the UAE economy, and generate some 50,000 jobs.

According to Prophecy Market Insights, the smart mobility market accounted globally for $40 billion in 2020 and is estimated to grow to $240 billion by 2030.

The Abu Dhabi announcement underpins the growing regional competition in the sector. It coincides with the launch of the National Automotive and Mobility Investment Company to build local manufacturing and supply chain capabilities for the automotive and mobility industry in Saudi Arabia. 

“Abu Dhabi is poised to become a regional manufacturing hub for smart and autonomous vehicles,” said Badr Al Olama, acting director general of ADIO.

“We have signed more than 20 MoUs today, and some of the companies want to establish regional offices here.”

Among them are California-based startup Joby Aviation, maritime applications developer Marakeb Technologies, and China-based WeRide.

In July the UAE cabinet granted the first preliminary national licence for self-driving cars to WeRide.

Commenting on the commercial rollout of autonomous taxis on a larger scale in the emirate, Al Olama said the service will be available “as soon as it passes the certification process”. Cars are already being tested on Yas Island.

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